News release: Rural health awards presented at Minnesota Rural Health Conference

News Release
June 28, 2011
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Rural health awards presented at Minnesota Rural Health Conference

Dr. Therese Zink, Zumbrota, and Right Side Up in Otter Tail County, receive awards

Therese Zink, M.D., of Zumbrota, and the Right Side Up in Otter Tail County team were recognized June 28 at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference in Duluth for their outstanding contributions to rural health care.

Dr. Zink received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for promoting rural health in Minnesota and across the country. Dr. Zink is a member of the University of Minnesota faculty, a published author, and a family physician in Zumbrota.

As a faculty member and associate director of research and evaluation at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Dr. Zink teaches third-year medical students who are part of the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP). The Minnesota Legislature and the University founded RPAP in 1971 to train more rural and primary care physicians. Over the past five years, Dr. Zink has analyzed the outcomes of RPAP, demonstrating the program’s success training rural and primary care physicians and showing its potential as a model nationwide.

Dr. Zink edited an anthology of stories, poems and essays about rural health care today, which she shared with rural medical school programs across the United States. “The Country Doctor Revisited, A Twenty-First Century Reader,” is playing an important role in educating students about rural practice and helping them match their interests with the reality of practicing in a rural community. She also facilitated a book discussion with first- and second-year medical students at the University of Minnesota using selections from the book to explore issues about modern rural practice. Based on that experience, she received a grant from the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine to sponsor book discussion groups at 10 U.S. medical schools. The discussions will link rural residency faculty and medical students to create conversations, mentoring and networking relationships. Zink uses her website (, YouTube and Facebook to change the way rural medicine is perceived. Says Zink, “We need to reach out to the next generation of health professionals using the methods they engage in daily.”

Dr. Zink also makes an important difference in her own community. She started a Violence Prevention Committee to raise awareness about family violence and to better coordinate efforts among the police, community members and mental health and health care providers. She helped raise funds to construct a Peace Garden for reflection. She worked with others in the community to create the Stabilize Zumbrota Families Fund to help families in need of short-term assistance. She is partnering with the Rochester nonprofit Twenty Teeth to provide preventive care and fluoride washes to school-age children in the Zumbrota/Mazeppa School System.

In nominating Dr. Zink, Ray Christensen, M.D., assistant dean for Rural Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School said, “Rural medicine is privileged to have many wonderful people who devote their personal and professional lives to providing medical care and access to rural citizens and visitors. Therese Zink stands out as a special rural person.”

Right Side Up in Otter Tail County received the Rural Health Team Award for its compassionate in-home efforts to reduce fall risk among seniors and improve their quality of life.

Each year one in three adults over the age of 65 falls and half fall again. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related mortality in those 75 or older. Primary risk factors for falls include medical conditions, multiple medications, environmental hazards, and age-related changes in vision and balance.

Right Side Up grew out of a nursing student’s project that looked at the number of falls occurring in Otter Tail County. It has continued with medical, pharmacy, physical therapy students on clinical rotations at Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls. In addition to well over 30 students, Right Side Up includes nurse practitioner Marie Braaten, pharmacists Eric Christianson, Mark Dewey and Todd Johnson, physical therapist Eric Leopold, and nurses Lynn Lundquist and Diane Thorson. The entire Right Side Up team works together to assess the risk of elderly community members falling and makes recommendations to decrease fall risk.

When a family member or health care provider refers an individual with a history of falls or the potential to fall, Right Side Up arranges a home visit. The home visit includes an environmental assessment, an inventory of all prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, a medical history and a balance test. With assistance from a public health or home health nurse, the students conduct the assessments and then present recommendations to reduce the risk of falls to the entire team. Final recommendations are sent to the individuals and their primary care providers for action.

A key component to reducing falls is coordinating care using a team approach. Not only do students gain confidence in their abilities, but through this early experience with an interprofessional approach to patient care, students are better prepared to continue improving quality of life for seniors well into the future.

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference presents hero and team awards each year. This year’s conference, “Cornerstones of Rural Health,” was hosted by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, the Minnesota Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Resource Center. More information is available at


For more information, contact:

John Stieger
MDH Communications

Mark Schoenbaum
Office of Rural Health and Primary Care